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Secrets in the Snow News/Business. Keith Morrison, Josh Mankiewicz, Hoda Kotb. (2012) A woman goes for a walk during a snowstorm and never returns. (CC) (Stereo)




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  NBC    Dateline NBC    Secrets in the Snow  News/Business. Keith Morrison, Josh  
   Mankiewicz, Hoda Kotb.  (2012) A woman goes for a walk during...  

    January 7, 2013
    2:00 - 3:00am PST  

i'm here, asking for help. >> it was like hearing a ghost, a voice beyond the grave. >> i couldn't go back. >> can she help solve her own murder? >> this is something that happens to other people, not to you. >> she was a dancer who married a dashing photographer. they seemed a perfect family. until the bone-chilling night she went missing. >> you could see the body underneath the snow. >> where was her husband that night? >> my attorney said, you don't know the tidal wave that's
coming towards you, do you? >> it seems like it's always the husband, right? isn't that what police usually say? only this time, they weren't so sure. >> it's a whodunit. i have three viable suspects. >> three possible suspects? it turns out this victim also had a boyfriend, and she had a wife. husband, boyfriend, jealous spouse. >> i said something like i hope she rots in hell. >> so what did happen that snowy night? see what you think. because the most important clue of all may be the victim's own voice. >> i knew there was a line to draw. >> i'm lester holt, and this is "dateline." tonight, "secrets in the snow." here's keith morrison. >> it was cold the night it happened, so very cold. a night to be inside by a fireplace, tucked under a quilt. not outside in the frigid dark, not way up here, 9,000 feet up
in the colorado mountains, snow thick already that late november night. and with the wind chill 24 below. >> i don't know enough to know exactly what happened. i'm still trying to figure it out. >> what in god's name was his wife doing, walking out into the brutal cold? and more to the point, what happened to her? this middle-class married mother of three, where did she go? without a word to him or her friends. >> you can't imagine that this is happening to you and to your friend. >> she was just plain missing. >> yes, she was. and it was terrifying. dreadful in the end. and these events were about to prove a shocking lesson on what can dwell hidden beneath a person's public skin. so it's really a secret thing? >> a lot of it, sure. >> everybody has secrets, of course.
stephan stephanie bruner's secrets lived in the snowy peaks of silverthorne, colorado. and how she got here was the sort of thing you would expect to read possibly in a romance novel. >> it was instant attraction. >> they met on top of a mount n mountain. phil bruner was taking and selling photographs of visiting skiers. today skiers were it. >> i love taking wildlife photos and scenics, and people said, why don't you sell more of your work that way? and i said, well, buffalo don't carry credit cards. >> it was up mountain he spotted this young woman seeming to conduct some sort of forestry survey. >> i skied up to her and i said, what are you doing, writing parking tickets? and she looked up at me and smiled. >> and then she took off her big ski goggles. >> i was stunned. i was like, wow, she's beautiful. >> they moved in right away, and
when they got married a few years later, they eloped. they headed off to fiji. it was so stephanie, her friends said. they moved to silverthorne, where his business grew and grew. >> i ran 25 photographers working. >> stephanie got a job in county government, the environmental planning department. they raised their three young children. >> awesome children. the best. >> how about a smile? >> and life for the bruner family was -- >> it was fantastic. we traveled, we vacationed. >> but it was in her spare moments and hours that stephanie was truly transformed. a ballroom dancer. >> dancing was probably to her what photography is to me. >> it was her passion, said her old friend bill. >> stephanie loved to dance.
i mean, dance was her life. she was alive when she danced. >> hardly surprising, then, that stephanie and jennifer were very close, too. >> we started a ballroom dance program together at my dance studio, and pretty soon she had me doing backflips with men and partnering and just all kinds of fun things. >> but it was dance that led off the whole cascade of trouble. in the fall of 2010, there was an annual fundraiser here in silverthorne called dancing with the mountain stars, amateurs paired up with the dancing pros. >> i went to three of them. i did not go to the last one. >> he had a wedding to shoot, so he didn't get a chance to see stephanie teach those lead-footed men the fox trot. which means he also missed what happened that night.
>> she coached a number of couples, and in the process, sthe mshe met a man named ron. >> ron holthouse, a local married physical therapist. >> she started working with him and got to know him and saw how funny and animated he was and how that made her feel. she really did call it a true love moment. >> he seemed to feel the same thing about her. >> yeah, they really clicked together. >> so they did. oh, boy, did they ever. and stephanie was dancing on air, her whole world upended. >> she didn't realize there could be love like that. >> the secret from her family, of course, but she told her friends she had found her soulmate. >> it was almost odd how she told a number of us that, i just want you to know that i'm very happy. >> but joy and misery come in pairs sometimes. as thanksgiving approached, chaos took over what had been a well-ordered life.
it was a wet day middle of october when things started piling up. >> horrendous day for her. >> because? >> she went to work that day and the county laid off 20 people that very day. >> including stephanie. in fact, stephanie's troubles and her secrets seemed to pile up like the snow. >> she was behaving a little bit strangely. >> a little unpredictable? >> a little bit, yeah. >> it was thanksgiving week that cold, dark night. not far away from peaceful silverthorne, someone robbed a bank. a very rare thing here. her husband was in bed when stephanie said he wshe was goint to clear her head and she didn't come back. >> i got a call from dale bruner who said i want to make a report that my wife is missing. >> it was a reporter rhonda nicholas who made the call.
>> he said, i got the kids up and ready for school and on the bus, and then i thought i better call you guys. >> her car was in the driveway, and when she called her friend, she was in a panic. >> i was in a panic. >> it seemed unbelievable that stephanie would not check in. >> a day became two and then three. and some private secrets were about to become very public indeed. >> so where was stephanie? police had a lot of questions for her husband dale. they also wanted to talk to that other man in her life, her boyfriend, ron. and when we come back, they do. >> i just want to ask straight up again, not accusing you, do you know where stephanie is right now? >> when "secrets in the snow" continues. k you to
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all night the bitter cold pri pried at the windows and licked at the door frames of the house in silverthorne, colorado. certainly not a night for a night walk. it was not like stephanie bruner to just disappear. >> it seemed more likely it might be a stranger involved or that stephanie herself might have just run off in despair and
maybe hurt herself. >> stephanie's friends and family pored over those last few weeks so full of change and secrecy, turmoil. were there clues? of course, some knew about stephanie's relationship with that new man and how upset she was about losing her job. still, she seemed to be holding the trouble at bay. six weeks before she disappeared, as dale recalled, she suggested a little family holiday. >> she says, let's go to glenwood springs for the weekend. old, classic, wonderful place. >> and it was almost romantic, said dale, just like the old days. but when they got back, she gave him the news. >> she goes, i want a divorce. i said, you don't love me anymore? she said, i've met this other person. she even said, it's not that i don't love you, but i think i met my soulmate again. >> just like that, dale's world came crashing down. >> i called her brother, i called her sisters, i called her mom. i said, do you know what's going
on? do you know what's happening? >> he talked to her sister ramona. >> i remember during the phone call feeling really annoyed, like why are you calling me to try to sway me to your side? but by the time the phone call ended, i remember thinking, yeah, what is steph doing? >> he begged stephanie's friend jennifer to do something. >> you've got to talk some sense into her, you've got to make her see that she needs to stay with me. >> you had no inkling this was coming? >> no, not until she told me she was in love with somebody. >> hopelessly in love, she told him. what will about that other man she met at dancing with the stars? >> i wasn't going to be dancing with her on a big, important night for her. >> it was a curiously old-fashioned affair, apparently. stephanie told her friends her feelings were not so much physical, but pure and emotional. but she made it clear to dale
that even though she still loved him, she had no choice but to follow these powerful feelings and make a life with that new man. >> i said, if this is what you want, this is what you want. >> it was decided dale would stay in the family house. and so the weekend before stephanie disappeared, he helped her move into a rented condo. >> why in heavenheaven's name d do that? >> she asked me to help. isn't that what you do? i didn't fall out of love with her. i still loved her. >> then her very first night away, dale said he woke up to a commotion downstairs. it was stephanie. she crawled right back into bed with him. >> she had come home. >> wow. >> she said, this was all a horrible mistake and that she wanted to move back in. >> and i said, are you sure? she said, don't worry, everything is fine. >> but now just two days later, things were not fine. not at all. stephanie was missing, and dale was down at the police
department telling officers where he thought his wife might have gone. >> i thought she would go somewhere with her wi-fi and be on the computer, and my other guess was maybe she went to, you know, ron's house. i didn't know. >> the police interviewed the other man, of course, ron holthouse. >> i just want to ask straight up again, not accusing you, do you know where stephanie is right now. >> i absolutely have no idea. >> ron admitted he and stephanie had a romantic relationship, but he denied they ever slept together. >> we never ended up having sex. >> and then ron told them something very interesting. that he had ended the affair. it was the night she moved into the condo, he told them. he said to stephanie it was over. >> i said, i'm going to move to florida with my wife. we're going to try to go back to naples and make this work. >> do you have any reason to believe that anything bad may have happened to her?
>> that would be my worst fear. >> thanksgiving day came and went. no stephanie. an overstretched local police force called in the colorado bureau of investigations, which is why agent greg sadar was standing beside the shallow blue river staring at what looked like a lump of snow on some rocks. >> there was several inches of snow on top of her, and you could see the body underneath the snow. >> it was stephstephanie, all r. but how did she get here? coming up, the autopsy finding that surprised everyone. had stephanie been murdered? >> it's a whodunit. i had at least three viable suspects. >> any one of whom had potential
it was per plexing, almost, that a thing so awful could happen in the midst of such beauty. here in the frigid rushing water
of the blue river, three and a half days after she disappeared, they found stephanie roller bruner, nude but for a tie-dyed shirt still on her body. she had come to rest near some rocks. >> further down where the water becomes calm is where we located her. >> just after that bend there? >> yes, sir. >> she hadn't gone far, says mr. sadar of her investigation. >> how far from the house? >> off the top of my head, roughly 250 to 300 yards. >> investigators say they found a body. >> it was a pretty bad day. >> your heart drops. let's find out what happened to her, along with humongous sadness. >> the county coroner broke the news to dale. >> they said, dale, we need to tell you something. and i'm like, what? i just went into convulsions. >> but how did she get here? was it suicide, accident or
murder? there is a bridge just upstream from the place they found stephanie's body. dale told police she often liked to walk there. >> she could have been attacked on this bridge and shoved over. >> that was one of our early fears. >> or that she just simply committed suicide. jumped in the water, hit her head and that was that. >> that was also another legitimate consideration. >> so it's still a puzzle. >> it is. >> until four days after thanksgiving when the autopsy revealed a curious detail, one that seemed to rule out suicide. >> there was no wounds at all to the soles of her feet. >> what did that mean? >> that certainly means that she did not walk to where we had found her without shoes. >> and just in case there was any lingering doubt, the autopsy also revealed she had taken a blow to the head, and then she had been strangled but was still alive when she was thrown into the freezing water. the ultimate cause of death,
hypothermia and drowning. >> we knew at that point she had been murdered. >> first murder in silverthorne in decades, but who would do such a thing and why? it was just hours before stephanie took her walk in this virtually crime-free community that somebody robbed that nearby bank. so did the robber later encounter stephanie and then assault and kill her? >> this is where a predator could have been hiding out. there is any number of opportunities at that point. >> still, it was so cold. perhaps too cold for a lurking predator? >> this is one of those very few cases that it's a whodunit, if you will, and we've got -- i had at least three viable suspects. >> any one of whom had potential motive. >> absolutely. >> it was ron holt's house, the other man, who had just suddenly dumped stephanie. there was cindy, ron's wife, who
if she knew about the affair could have wanted revenge. and then there was dale, dale bruner, the husband. and any one of them, thought the detective, was certainly physically capable of causing the crime. >> her husband, 6 foot, 200-pound, very athletic guy. and ron, a big guy. his wife, actually a very physically fit woman. >> she would be outgunned by any one of them. >> i believe so, yes, sir. >> they took ron in for questioning several times. time after time he insisted it wasn't him. >> i screwed up my marriage, i made a mess of my life. >> he admitted that in the last hours of stephanie's life, he met her here in this clothing store parking lot around dinnertime. and it wasn't a happy meeting. >> i was actually trying to tell her that it was over. >> he had earlier sent her a break-up e-mail, he said.
she insisted on seeing him in person. she wasn't taking it well at all. >> and then she said -- asked me again one more time, but we can make it work. i said, no, we cannot make this work. >> she was still interested in having a relationship with him. >> and didn't want to let him go. >> correct. and i'm sure that he was motivated to not let his wife find out about that. >> which begged the question, where was ron holthouse later that monday evening when stephanie went for her walk? >> you're saying to me you were at home, you never went out on monday night. >> correct. >> the detectives called in ron's wife, cindy. >> it would not be unheard of for a woman to be very upset that her -- to find that her husband, who has been seeing another woman, and want to go to significant lengths by eliminating that temptation. >> her alibi? she was home, sleeping, right next to ron. >> okay.
did you know for sure if ron was in the house? did he leave at any time that night on monday night? >> i did not sit up looking at him all night. >> if he had gotten up and left, would you have awoken? >> i think i would have. >> so their alibi was each other. detectives kept prodding. >> how well do you know your husband? >> pretty well. >> would he do anything for you? >> within reason. >> for almost a month, detectives went back and forth between ron and cindy and stephanie's husband dale who, by that time, had been advised by a friend, better get a lawyer. >> so i called. and my attorney said, you don't know the onslaught, the tidal wave that's coming toward you, do you? you have no idea. i said, apparently not. >> oh, yes. and what a tidal wave it was.
>> so three potential suspects. the husband dale, the boyfriend ron and ron's wife cindy. when we return, police narrow their focus to just one after a very strange discovery. >> every trace of her had been scrubbed from the house. >> when "secrets in the snow" continues. en training all year for the big race in chicago, but i can only afford one trip. and i just found out my best friend is getting married in l.a. there's no way i'm missing that. then i heard about hotwire and i realized i could actually afford both trips. see, when really nice hotels have unsold rooms, they use hotwire to fill them. so i got my four-star hotels for half-price! >> men: ♪ h-o-t-w-i-r-e ♪ hotwire.com >> announcer: save big on car rentals too, from $12.95 a day. new prilosec otc wildberry is the same frequent heartburn treatment as prilosec otc. now with a fancy coating that gives you a burst of wildberry flavor. now why make a flavored heartburn pill?
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it's horrible. i mean, i don't even know how to explain having a microscope go into your world. it's surreal. >> there are few secrets in a person's life that can escape the attention of a determined homicide detective. >> everything comes out. absolutely everything. >> and dale and stephanie, it tur turned out, have their share of secrets. but the weird thing, one chilly morning six weeks before
stephanie was murdered, as stephanie told her friend jennifer. >> she heard spanking, and she told me she counted at least eight spanks before she got up the stairs and down the hall to the tchen. >> well, my boy was acting out far beyond, you know, the norm. and i said, come on. >> that was a wednesday morning. stephanie was furious about the spanking and stormed off to work, and that very day was laid off from her county job. and then still upset with dale, stephanie went to see a judge and filed a restraining order against him, sought advice from her friend bill. >> honestly, i was a little bit surprised. i had never detected any major problems in their relationship. >> but -- and this was distinctly odd -- she asked the court to delay implementing the order until the following monday. then she went home and, said dale, suggested that family holiday. >> we had a wonderful weekend at hotel colorado and the hot
springs swimming with the kids. >> then back in town was when stephanie revealed, one, that she was in love with another man, and two, her restraining order was about to be served. >> she told me that, you know, the sheriff's department was going to come to the house and i'm going to have to leave. >> so he did. after which, said dale, they calmed down and ten days later went back to ask the judge to rescind his order. the court recorded the session. >> i'm never going to spank again. this potentially could crush my entire world. and i'm so sorry to you, and i will make it up in any and every way i possibly can. >> she wanted to leave but she felt like the restraining order was too much, that dale didn't deserve that and that maybe she had overreacted. >> so they talked about it like adults. and eventually they signed divorce papers, and dale even helped stephanie move into her condo where, as you know, the very night she moved in, her new
love ron told her the affair was over. they weren't going to be together, not then, not ever. he was staying with his wife. two days later, she was dead. and ron and his wife and dale were all under suspicion. >> they said i was a person of interest, and i didn't think i had any worries. >> but agent sadar wasn't so sure. as his investigation continued, he became convinced that ron holthouse and his wife cindy had been telling him the truth. but he kept encountering suspicious things about dale. why had dale waited until morning to report his wife missing? and why, while dale's friends and family scoured the town looking for her, why didn't he take part at all? >> it was kind of this mounting series of things that we started to be concerned about. >> and it was dale, said sadar, who had motive and opportunity. for one thing the place they found her body, dale could
certainly have carried her that far. >> we were struck by how close it is to his house and how accessible it was even under the snowy conditions. >> and when dale was still talking before he lawyered up, his demeanor seemed odd to the detectives. one of their meetings at a local restaurant was recorded. >> what happened to her, then? >> that's what i'm talking to you about. >> very probative. he wanted to know what we had learned from the autopsy, where we were going with the investigation. >> you had me a little wigged out when you said there were no other clues on her. >> i'm being very open and honest with you. >> what the hell happened to her? >> that's what i want to find out. >> he was nervous but not outwardly sad. >> then two and a half weeks later when detective sadar got a
search warrant, a house that was cluttered and unruly before was now spotless. >> what did you find? >> nothing. there was nothing to find. >> no blood, no signs of a struggle, nor was there a sign that stephanie had ever lived there. >> there wasn't a single photograph of her. every trace of her had been scrubbed from the house. >> it also seemed suspicious, said the detective, that dale changed his story a bit. the first time he called the police, he said they had had an argument before she left to go out walking. later he said there was no argument. >> was there an argument at any time? >> no, we never had an argument. no argument. >> what were you guys talking about that she needed to clear her head? >> we were just talking about us. >> within a few weeks of stephanie's murder, the state ram ramped up the pressure on dale. social services sent the children to live with his brother in california. >> i'm in a fight with mike tyson with no gloves. and they're going to take my
kids away, too? >> dale wasn't completely alone, mind you. some family stayed around, reported back to stephanie's sister ramona that dale was truly grieving. >> we kept asking, what is dale acting like, what is he saying? unless he's some kind of actor that deserves some kind of actor performance, this guy seemed distraught. >> we were trying to hold dale together. he was having a very difficult time. >> did anyone ever confront him and say, come on, tell us what happened. >> he looked every one of us in the eye and said, i had nothing to do with this. i'm innocent. >> do you have any comment about the investigators only focusing on you? >> i hope they're investigating someone else. >> it didn't look like it. it was summer 2011. nine months after stephanie's murder when it happened. >> i was coming back from one of my photo shoots and a little unmarked car with a light on it flashed and a siren went, and
they have guns drawn on me. >> dale bruner was charged with second-degree murder in the death of his wife. he pleaded not guilty, posted bond and was offered a plea deal by the d.a.'s office. >> why did you turn it down? >> because innocent people don't plea. >> besides, now, said dale, it was time to fight back. coming up, probing questions and provocative answers. >> it's a very intimate crime. it's the sort of crime that husbands commit. >> or should i say boyfriends? >> when "dateline" continues. [ dog barking ] ♪ [ female announcer ] life is full of little tests, but your basic paper towel can handle them. especially if that towel is bounty basic. the towel that's durable, and scrubbable. in this lab demo, bounty basic is stronger than the leading bargain brand. everyday life? bring it with bounty basic. the strong but affordable picker-upper...
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iams. keep love strong. two winters passed here in the colorado rockies between the untimely demise of stephanie roller bruner and the detectives attempt to pin it on her husband, dale bruner. he steeamed in silence about th lies against him. >> you just go, really? >> during the trial, he continued to live here all alone in the family house by the blue river, working with his attorney in the effort to clear his name. ryan bernhardt was his attorney, a man not at all impressed with the police investigation. >> their position was, i think
dale is the easy guy, the worst pieces of investigating i've ever seen in my career. >> dale and his attorney told us that despite a show of interviewing other suspects, the police quite clearly had made up their minds the very day she disappeared. >> the police came to my house. i don't know what the exact first thing he said was, but he goes, did you kill your wife? and i was just stunned. >> the police didn't seem to want to believe what he told them about how happy he was that last evening, discussing new possibilities, a fresh start. when around 9:00 p.m. their daughter came into the bedroom to ask for help with her homework. >> when she came into the room, we were laying on top of our bed, cuddling. >> nor did the cops seem to want to believe his explanation for not reporting stephanie missing until morning, more than nine hours after she walked out into that frigid night. >> why would he? if he was aware of the fact that she was having an affair, he probably assumed that she went to her boyfriend.
>> the last thing i was going to do was make waves. you just do what you got to do. >> they made such a big deal of the fact that dale didn't join the search for stephanie, even though -- >> i called the police. they told me to stay home in case she comes home. >> so by the time dale's trial began this last summer, he and his attorney were ready, for evidence that was, they knew, only circumstantial. questions like this. >> even the way she was beaten on her head and strangled the way she was strangled, it's a very intimate crime. it's the sort of crime that husbands commit when their wives are about to leave them. >> or should i say their boyfriend? >> well, there you go. >> that was point his lawyers wanted to make in court, that police and prosecutors had unfairly brushed off the possibility that stephanie's new soulmate or his wife had anything to do with it. that would be ron holthouse. >> when everybody found out that stephanie was missing, did any police officers come and visit
you at work or at your home that day? >> no, they did not. >> and didn't ron's wife cindy have a motive? >> and i said something like, i don't know where she is, but i hope she rots in hell. and i'm very sorry i said that. >> of course, dale and his attorney knew the prosecution would make a big deal of that restraining order stephanie took out after dale spanked their son, but her decision to ask for that order, said dale, sprang from her own confusion, the affair, the chaos in her life. >> i believe she built a fake little world where i was the bad guy. >> but was stephanie ever worried that dale might get violent? hardly, said the defense. why else would she ask the judge to delay the order until after their little family holiday? >> the judge said he had never seen someone have a restraining order but then have them say, well, don't enact it yet. not until next week. >> and why would she go away on a yoga retreat and decline this
friend's offer to babysit? >> can i take care of the kids? she said, no, they're fine with dale. >> and that's because she knew dale wasn't a threat to her. he wasn't a threat to those children. >> remember how the detective found the house unusually spotless two weeks after the murder? it was, it turned out, family and friends who cleaned up, apparently because dale was paralyzed by grief. >> dale walked into his walk-in closet and half the stuff is stephanies. and he comes out and he's just crying and he's like, i got to get this stuff out of here. >> so it's clearly a rush to judgment, a sloppy investigation, said the defense, by the detectives who bought the holthouses' defense too easily, and forgot about the guy who robbed a bank a few hours earlier. >> you have no direct evidence of mr. bruner assaulting his
wife? >> correct. no direct evidence of mr. bruner murdering her. >> of course, had dale taken the stand, he would have had to answer some stubbornly uncomfortable facts. and this question that hung over the defense table like a cloud. >> you loved your wife. you loved her a lot. but in that moment of extreme rage when she was leaving you, you killed her. strangled her and then threw her body in the river. >> it's so not true. >> the theme of the prosecution was that you were an abuser and that it was -- >> it's beyond so not true. it's just not true. they painted quite a picture, though. >> oh, yes. they certainly did. with the help of a woman whose message in a way came back from the grave. coming up, stephanie speaks. >> i'm here. asking for help. >> and so does another voice
from the past. >> he had a look on his face that i had never seen or recognized before. >> what secrets will she reveal?
i'm sitting across from a man who may be telling me a true
story, who may also be living with the knowledge that he hit his wife on the head and strangled her and put her in the river and that's where she died, and you have to live with that secret for the rest of your life. >> fortunately, i don't have to live with that. that i don't have to live with. >> what dale bruner would have to live with would depend on the outcome of his trial, of course, and whether or not prosecutor mark hurlberg can convince the jury without physical evidence that dale killed his lovely wife in a fit of blind rage. >> i believe dale bruner strangled her, i believe she was dead, and he takes her and dumps her into the river. >> what did happen on the night of the murder? the prosecutor called a child to start the story, dale and stephanie's he wouldeeldest dau walked into their bedroom at
10:00 p.m. >> she could talk about specifics. >> she told the court she heard her parents arguing, not cuddling, as dale claimed. after which, remember, dale claimed stephanie went for a walk to clear her head. but at temperatures well below freezing? you've got to be kidding, said the prosecutor. >> his wife goes for a walk and he wouldn't call anybody until eight or nine hours later, ten hours later? that just doesn't make any sense. >> which by itself didn't mean dale was guilty. but this is where some of those secrets began to spill out. the terrifying secrets of a fatally troubled marriage. like the one stephanie told this friend after that spanking incident when she applied for a restraining order. >> did she express fear to you at the time? >> yes, she did. she looked at me and said, he just sees red. he gets so mad that he goes into a red zone, and he doesn't even know what he does. >> and so, said this friend -- >> she was afraid to get a
restraining order against dale because he had already threatened to harm or kill her. >> that threat from dale was years earlier, but stephanie had never forgotten how terrified she was. she told the story to her friend jennifer just before the murder. >> he strong-armed her into a corner, choking her, threatening to hit her. he stopped short of hitting her, but he did. and there was another time he threw her on the bed and put his knee on her pregnant belly. >> how often would this happen? >> you know, there may be three -- two or three, i don't know, of those incidents that she talked about. >> then there was leah aiken, long-time friend of dale's, who told the court about his reaction when stephanie told him she was in love with another man. >> maybe she would have a heart attack or get hit by a car. i kept telling him to stop talking like that. >> but did dale really mean
that? could he be truly violent? consider this woman, said the prosecutor, an ex-girlfriend from dale's past, a woman named jodi, who told the jury and us a strange tale of what happened one night when she lived with dale 20 years ago. >> he hadn't come home for dinner one night and had said he would be home. >> you called him on it. >> he came home, we argued about it, and he became very angry, yelling at me. he pushed me down onto the floor and put his hands around my neck and said, if you ever say or do that again, i'll kill you. he had a look on his face that i had never seen or recognized before. that was the most scared i had ever been in my life. >> and even though that was a long time ago, said the prosecutor, it told a terrible tale which, sadly, is as old as time. dale, he said, was a man sometimes overcome by rage, and his m.o. was to go for the
throat. >> she was strangled so hard with such force that it broke a bone in her neck. >> and then the prosecutor introduced his bombshell. stephanie herself on tape. six weeks before her murder, stephanie begged a judge for that restraining order. and now in court, her recorded plea was a voice from the grave. >> he has threatened my life years ago, but, you know, with a hand on my throat. didn't squeeze it, screaming in my face, i will kill you if you leave. that i've never forgotten. >> her sister was sitting in the courtroom, listening, and was overcome. >> and that was when we lost it. because it was feelings of, oh, my god, and she's crying. >> it was as if stephanie was testifying in her own murder trial. >> i would so love to talk to him about it and say can he leave or can he get help.
and i just think that would go really bad. so i'm here asking for help. and i'm going to end up getting a divorce because there's no way i can go back. >> only she did. finally, this domestic violence expert weighed in. >> when a victim is attempting to leave a relationship or has left a relationship, it is by far the most dangerous time for a victim. >> but what was the trigger that, according to the prosecution, set dale off? the answer, he said, may lie in an unfinished e-mail stephanie was writing to the other man, ron, just before she was murdered. although dale denied he knew what she was doing -- >> i honestly didn't know. i had no idea. >> -- the prosecutor said dale must have seen her writing it, an e-mail begging ron for another meeting because she couldn't accept the idea that her new love was leaving her. >> i think dale bruner got angry
at that and hit her with something. then he strangles her, believes that she is dead, she's probably unconscious at that point but she is not dead. takes her to the river and dumps her in the river. >> the jury stayed out four hours. >> the court has reviewed the verdicts. >> it was kind of early, which is always worrying. >> dale bruner stood, awaited his fate. >> you're just trying to maintain and not just melt. so you prepare yourself to just breathe. just breathe. >> and then there it was. >> we, the jury, find the defendant dale bruner guilty of murder in the second degree. >> dale bruner was taken away in handcuffs and later was sentenced to 112 years in prison. he's appealing. >> it is a perfect storm. i'm going down with the ship. >> stephanie's friend jennifer
was driving when the verdict came in. >> i was in my car parked on the side of the road, crying like a baby. >> and like others who knew stephanie, she wishes now she had taken her friend's secrets more seriously. >> i beat myself up over it every day about how i should have done this or should have done that. >> an almost good marriage with one deadly flaw. >> a lot of stephanie's close friends and family didn't even know what was going on, and i knew of a couple events over the years, and let's say it was only two, it only took three and she's dead. >> and so, say her friends, take some advice. heed the warning. don't hide the secret. >> that's why i'm talking about it now, and hopefully one woman would have the courage to stand up and say, i'm being abused, i'm living in fear, i'm living with secrets, and i need to stand up and be bold.
>> that's all for now. i'm lester holt. thanks for us. from nbc news in washington, the world's longest-running television program, this is "meet the press." with david gregory. >> good sunday morning. a new year, a new congress. washington is getting back to work as president obama ended his hawaii vacation and members of the 113th congress were sworn in earlier this week alongside their families. spirits high, but the battle lines for the tough fights ahead are already being drawn. chief among them whether congress will vote to raise the country's debt ceiling. shortly after lawmakers reached a down to the wire deal on taxes to pull the country back from the fiscal cliff earlier this week, the president tried to preempt the debt limit showdown by firing a warning shot at republicans. he reiterated that call yesterday. >> one thing i will not
compromise over is whether congress should pay the tab for a bill already racked up. the congress refuses to give the united states the ability to pay its bills on time, the results for the global economy could be catastrophic. >> congress has vowed to use the upcoming votes to get more spending cuts to entitlement programs like medicare. some are threatening a government shutdown. in a moment, we'll talk to alan simpson and erskine bowles about where they see the fiscal cliff deal leaving the country. they say it falls short. but first, the man who brokered the deal with the white house on behalf of the republicans and no doubt will be a key figure in the battles ahead, the top republican in the senate, mitch mcconnell. he joins me now. leader mcconnell, happy new year. welcome back to "meet the press." >> good morning, david. >> let me talk about a preview of coming attractions and the fights ahead, including the debt ceiling that was so bitterly contested back in the summer of 2011. here is something you said in august of 2011 that i wan t